Have you ever taken a drive through your neighbourhood or someone else’s neighbourhood on garbage night? Are you amazed at the things that people throw away? Are you amazed how people will stop and pick stuff up?
I remember about 10 years ago in Halifax… I moved from one building to another just across the parking lot. There was a lovely little computer desk out by the garbage bin that sat between the two buildings. I checked it out, it was in good condition, just covered in a lot of dust. In fact, I think it came from the apartment I was moving into and it fit perfectly in one corner of the spare bedroom. I admit, I felt a bit odd taking it, although with Curbside Giveaway Days and ‘upcycling’ becoming more common, I may feel differently today. In fact, on Thursday, someone left a computer monitor outside and knowing that Dorcas Place doesn’t accept electronics, I felt no compunction about taking it home!
Dorcas Place is a testament to recycling and upcycling. Making use of things that otherwise might be tossed into the garbage. What, you might ask does this have to do with this week’s reading? The gospel reading is two stories in one… and in some ways they are separate and in some-ways they are connected. We are going to hear them in reverse order.
Let’s listen, and ponder questions about bearing fruit as written in Luke 13:6-9:
13:6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.
13:7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’
13:8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.
13:9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.
At this time of year, gardening metaphors work really well. We are ALL ready for signs of spring and new life! My croci are coming up! We welcome rain… partly because it is not snow… partly because it melts the snow… We welcome the increased length of days, the returning of the light, and like plants and animals that have been dormant and in hibernation, we may find deep within ourselves a vibration of new energy… a stirring towards a new awakening. But not quite yet… not quite yet…
We await the gardener… the one who tends… who prunes… who fertilizes… who waits along side us… who gives us life. The gardener… God…
The landowner wants to cut the fig tree down, because it hadn’t borne any fruit. The gardener pleads for a time extension… give me another year, he says… I will nurture it… fertilize it and tend it carefully, then make a decision at the end of that time… Are we like that fig tree? Not bearing any fruit? Is the fig tree to blame? Are we to blame?
Perhaps the circumstances we have wound up in have not been nourishing to us…
Perhaps we need to change what we are feeding ourselves. Perhaps we need to change what we are feeding ourselves.
And perhaps, we could take a second look at our circumstances and realize that we have what we need, and we could change how we think about it. What used to be thrown away now can be used and transformed into something else.
I wonder too if we are so accustomed to thinking about the church as the garden that we forget that there is a big beautiful world outside the walls, a world in which God is manifest in ways that we sometimes miss! Where is flourishing taking place outside our walls? What is the fruit that is being borne?
In Galatians 5, Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Where are these kinds of things taking place? Because we do not have the monopoly on the fruits of the spirit… God is not confined to our denomination, our building or our energy. Sometimes we keep looking for fruit in all the wrong places! What are some of the places in which you see the fruits of the Spirit?
I see the fruit of the Spirit:
• at Cup of Soul, where Pam has welcomed me into doing anything I have suggested.
• in the East Hants Family Resource Centre.
• in the volunteer firefighters.
• in the Elmsdale beautification Society
• in the Community Chorale.
• in the Heart Society.
• in the Community Centre.
• in 100 Women Who Care.
Those are just a fraction of the fruits… the ones I have become aware of over these past three years.
The first part of the gospel reading stands in contrast to the second. It features the age-old question of people paying for their sins, and, thus, people who are hurt or ill being seen as sinners. Let’s listen to that part of the story:
13:1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
13:2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?
13:3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.
13:4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?
13:5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
There is some question about these verses being inserted at a later date, perhaps to control the people. Jesus has been told of men who were making ritual sacrifices in the temple and who were slaughtered and their blood mixed with that of their animal sacrifices. Jesus asked his disciples, “He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” And then goes on to say, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
Does this sound like the Jesus we have come to know and follow? The Jesus I know doesn’t threaten the ordinary people. He often had sharp words and condemnation for those in power and those who enforced the letter of the law to the detriment of the people whom the law was supposed to be for.
In those days, just as now, we might think that the bad things in life that happen to people are somehow their own fault. We might think we are beyond that kind of thinking, but test yourselves with these ideas: A child born with a Down’s Syndrome to a mother over 40… Divorce… or two or three… Having to go on social assistance…
Do we sometimes blame these people for their life circumstances? I think we do… And I think I know why…If we can ‘blame’ these people…. Then we can take steps in our own lives so that we don’t have these things happen to us… It gives us the illusion of control and makes us think that if we follow certain rules… then nothing bad will happen to us… This works fine in theory until something happens for which there is no explanation… Such as illness, death, job loss…
Do not misunderstand me, there are some things that are preventable… but there are some really bad things that happen to people that just happen. Have you ever had someone say to you, or to someone else “Everything happens for a reason.” Or, “God doesn’t send us more than we can bear.” Or, “It must be God’s will.” These statements aren’t very helpful are they when you are in pain and grieving?
I don’t believe that God wills these things on us…. but the promise of scripture and Jesus is that God is there with us in the experience. God is there in the people who surround us with love, who will hold the Christ light for us…God is there in the pain, weeping as we are weeping…God is there… no matter what… And God holds out the promise that there is new life waiting for us…
As our creed says, “In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, we are not alone.” We are not alone… Powerful words… We are not alone. Have you ever noticed that ‘we’ part of that statement? We do not stand and say our Creed as individuals, but as a community. We are not alone. We are connected to one another, and to God and Jesus. We are Christ to one another, witnesses to our common faith, when one of us experiences pain and death.
And like a gardener who wants another chance for a tree, we always get a second chance… and a third chance and a fourth chance….
We may need to change what is around us, we may need to change what we are using for fertilizer, but we are always given the opportunity to bear fruit.
Thanks be to God who nurtures us, encourages us and sometimes compels us into new life! Amen!
Luke 13: 1-9
March 24, 2019 – ECM